Caleb Cook
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How Not to Drive a Stick Shift: 4 Bad Manual Transmission Habits to Avoid

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After 15 years of driving nothing but manual-transmission cars, I didn’t need to think about the shifting process as I moved through the gears. It was just automatic (ba dum tss).

Despite all those years of routine and muscle memory that had made driving stick feel so natural, I decided it was time for a refresher on proper manual-transmission driving techniques. Had I internalized any bad habits along the way?

I sure had.

As I researched four of the most common bad stick-shift techniques, I quickly recognized that I was guilty of at least a few of them, causing unnecessary wear and tear on my trusty Honda and shortening the life of my clutch. (Fortunately for my car, I also got a few things right!)

Here’s a look at those four bad habits, and, in the interests of full disclosure, my self-assessment for each one.

Using the Shifter as a Handrest

Why It’s Bad: When you shift gears, the selector fork is briefly pushed against a rotating collar, which then engages with the gear you’ve chosen. When you rest your hand on the shifter, though, the weight can put the selector fork in contact with the collar for a longer period of time, which leads to harmful wear on both the fork and the collar. The solution? Keep both hands on the wheel, which is a good idea anyway.

My Self-Assessment: Busted! I was using my shifter as a handrest constantly. Even now, when I know better, I still find myself doing it.

Riding the Clutch

Why It’s Bad: Pressing down on the clutch pedal disengages the clutch so you can shift gears, and letting up off the pedal re-engages the clutch. However, resting your foot on the pedal after shifting — riding the clutch — makes the clutch disc slip and keeps it from fully re-engaging. It presses the bearings against the clutch diaphragm and release springs, and is a good way to wear out your clutch. This can also be a problem if you frequently balance your car on inclines by partially engaging, or “slipping,” the clutch while pressing the gas pedal.

My Self-Assessment: This is a habit I’ve avoided. I keep my foot off the clutch pedal when I’m not using it, and living in the flat Midwest means I don’t have to deal with inclines very often.


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Keep your foot off the clutch pedal when you’re not shifting gears

Keeping the Car in Gear at Red Lights

Why It’s Bad: Your car’s clutch is designed to disengage and re-engage quickly, not to constantly be disengaged. When you keep the car in gear while stopped, you’re keeping the bearings against the diaphragm and springs, similar to riding the clutch. Instead of doing this and causing unnecessary wear while sitting at red lights, it’s better to put the car in neutral and give your clutch a break.

My Self-Assessment: Guilty. I did this all the time — mainly because I was lazy and didn’t want to take that extra half-second to step on the clutch and shift into first gear.

Lugging the Engine

Why It’s Bad: Flooring the gas when your car is at a low RPM is known as “lugging” the engine. This could happen when you’re cruising on the highway and then accelerate to pass someone, or when you lose momentum while climbing a hill. Lugging the engine makes it work much harder than it should, and could potentially damage it, because the transmission is in too high of a gear. Instead, shift to a lower gear so your engine can work more effectively and achieve its maximum potential.

My Self-Assessment: This is something I almost never did.

OK, that’s two out of four. It isn’t good, but it could have been much worse. Overall, reviewing bad stick-shift habits was a good wake-up call for me. It improved my driving skills and made me more conscious of my actions behind the wheel. Here’s hoping it will do the same for you!


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Sources: Engineering Explained, Car Throttle, Auto Express, Go Auto

A longtime editor/writer and recently transplanted Hoosier, Caleb Cook lives in Xenia, Ohio. His favorite activities are reading and listening to music, although he occasionally emerges from the heap of books and vinyl records in his basement to stand blinking in the sunlight. Once fully acclimated to the outside world again, he can be observed hanging out with his fiancee, attempting a new recipe in the kitchen, attending movies, walking the dog, or wandering into a local brewery to inquire about what’s on tap. See more articles by Caleb.